The ultimate Joyce look

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 06 December, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 06 December, 1997, 12:00am

Joyce Ma appeared at the door to her office in a cashmere camel-coloured Chinese-style jacket lined with ivory gold-embroidered silk. She wore it, in her inimitable style, with a classic beige top and pants and soft-soled shoes.

This was the ultimate Joyce look. The jacket, instead of brandishing the name of a major fashion star, simply bore a label that read 'Joyce'.

After 20 years scaling the heights of fashion retail, Ma is making something of a detour from her well-worn career path.

The style diva, regularly named as one of the world's best-dressed women, last week turned designer when she unveiled a line of clothing conceived and created by her, and carrying her name.

'People saw the collection in the window [of Joyce in the Galleria] and did a double-take,' said Adrienne Ma, Ma's daughter and the company's marketing director.

'It's a real head-turner. On the first day, it sold phenomenally well. Ma sees the introduction of a private label as the realisation of a long-cherished dream. When she was growing up, her grandmother used to hand-make beautiful dresses for her, and that sense of traditional handiwork has remained with her since. Even so, the launch of the Joyce private label was a quiet affair, and word of it began to reach the ears of consumers and fashion competitors only after the event.

'Oh yes, it's a major step for us,' said Ma of the venture, which has been 'in incubation' for three years.

'But we don't want to blow the horn too much. People will appreciate it once they have it on.' That, it seems, has already started. A week before the Joyce private label became available, Ma was wearing one of her eponymous jackets at a dinner party - and sold nine on the spot.

And during the last round of fashion shows in Europe, Ma tested the response to her Eastern-influenced ensemble; co-members of the international style set, she said, couldn't stop rhapsodising and asking where they could buy it.

Next March, at the height of the autumn/winter 1998 fashion collections in Paris, Ma hopes to display her freshly-created sartorial wares in her gallery there in the Palais Royal.

So while the genesis of the Joyce collection was a private one, this could, in time, become a very noted line: it is, for the moment, in an 'exploratory stage'. But based on an enthusiastic initial response, Ma believes the future could offer plenty of scope.

The project represents a significant departure for Ma, who has introduced Hong Kong and other Asian cities to cutting-edge names in international fashion.

Her focus has always been on sourcing from the West - Milan, Paris, London.

With the Joyce line, Ma has swivelled her style telescope inwards, basing her design and research team of four in Hong Kong and doing all the production here.

'We see what great craftsmanship there is in Asia and want to take advantage of it,' she said.

Despite the heavy Chinese influence, this is not a collection to be confused with the hugely successful Shanghai Tang ready-to-wear line; prices are in keeping with the Joyce name ($1,000 for a soft silk blouse up to around $8,000 for a pure cashmere jacket).

Touches such as rounded wooden buttons with filigree-style detailing continue the up-market appeal.

'It is not a cliched Chinese collection,' said Ma. 'It is very high class and not mass . . . an amalgamation of quiet style and the best fabrics. It will not compete with any other labels. That was not our intention.' Nor does Ma view her latest project as simply a bid to catch the Eastern-style wave sweeping the Western world.

'Chinese collars and forms have been fashionable for years,' she said.

'What is important now is that the mixtures have to be clever, with different yarns and fabrics used to make it more precious. I wanted it to be understated but luxurious, with a little ornamentation, a little detail,' she said.

For the Joyce autumn/winter 1998 advertising campaign, supermodel Stella Tennant is photographed in a open-front Chinese jacket in silvery navy silk - part of the Joyce private label - thrown casually over a ruched red Helmut Lang top and roomy drawstring pants from Lang.

That integration, said Ma, is the objective of the line.

'The typical Hong Kong fashion style is often without personality. People want to wear one designer from head to toe.

'I believe the way to do it is to wear something from the private label, mixed with anything else you have. It's all about mixing and creating something unique.'